Only if you want to get full value on your injury claim!
Virtually no one would think of performing surgery on him or herself, but many people think they can handle a legal problem on their own even though the consequences may be just as severe as do-it-yourself medicine. In criminal cases, for example, one’s life and liberty may be on the line. In personal injury cases and other kinds of civil cases, the consequences are less severe, but the decision to go it alone may still be costly.
That’s because do-it-yourself lawyering can hurt you in your pocketbook. You may miss a deadline, be ignorant of an important legal rule or principle, or simply fail to negotiate your claim as successfully as you should.
If you’ve been injured in an accident, bear in mind that there are time limits on your right to bring a claim. The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania in personal injury cases is two years, but in certain types of P.I. cases the law may require you to notify potential defendants about your claim within a much shorter period of time.
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If your injuries result from a motor vehicle collision, you may have multiple claims to bring, including a claim against your own carrier (called an underinsured motorist claim) as well as one against the insurance company of the person that hit you. You may jeopardize your underinsured motorist claim if you do not notify your insurance company of settlement with the responsible party’s carrier and obtain your carrier’s consent to settle before resolving the third party claim.
Recognize that a lawyer may understand the value of your claim far better than you do and has vastly more experience than you do in negotiating claims. Many people think they can settle a claim on their own, but there are pitfalls on the road to successful negotiation.
If you underestimate the value of your claim, the decision to go it alone may save you money on legal fees but the effect is similar to performing a do-it-yourself wallet biopsy, because you’ll get less in your pocket.
If you overestimate the value of your case, you may not get anything at all. Just as a house that is priced too high to sell is not likely to attract any bidders, insurance companies may scoff at a hugely inflated demand, dooming negotiation from the start.
The path isn’t any easier if you decide to file a lawsuit and represent yourself in court.
There’s a legal maxim that “a person who has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client.” The maxim exists for a reason. It may be as foolish to litigate a case on your own as it is to practice self-surgery.
People who represent themselves in court are called “pro se” litigants. Pro Se litigants must still plead the essential elements of their claim and will not be excused from conforming to the rules of civil procedure. The failure to follow the rules could result in dismissal of your case.